Crested by snow for much of the year, this mountain range forms a natural frontier between France and Spain. Dotted with historic ski stations, isolated valleys and subterranean caves, the range includes the Parc National des Pyrénées, a haven for eagles, griffon vultures, brown bears and other wildlife.
Pau Castle was
transformed into a Renaissance château amid lavish gardens in the 16th century.
It’s now a national museum. Henri de Navarre – the future Henri IV – was born
here and cradled, it is said, in an upturned tortoise shell, still on display
here (musee-chateau-pau. fr;
9.30am-11.45am and 2pm-5pm; admission and tour £5).
not have the altitude of the Alpine ski stations, but in many respects
Cauterets is a much more atmospheric place to hit the slopes. Hemmed in by
snowy peaks, it is also a superb base for exploring the Pyrenees National Park
the limestone mountains of the Vallée de l’Ariège, many of Europe’s largest
subterranean caverns are covered in prehistoric cave paintings. The best is the
Cave of Niaux, where tours must be booked in advance (00 33 5 61 05 88 37; sesta.fr/grotte-de-niaux.html;
Valley tracks the course of its namesake river for 37 miles from the
1,794m-high Col du Pourtalet pass to its confluence with the Gave d’Aspe river
at Oloron-Sainte-Marie. The valley, known for its cheese, is where the annual
Foire au Fromage (Cheese Fair) is held (valleedossau-tourisme.com; 1-2
from the crowds on the 94m-high pinnacle of the Pic du Jer. There are two
routes: a three-hour walk or a five-minute ride on the funicular (picdujer.fr; avenue Francis Lagardère;
9.30am- 6pm; return ticket £8).
Eat and drink
Tucked away in a building dating back to 1609, La Michodière is worth a visit
for its poissons sauvages (wild fish) (00 33 5 59 27 53 85; lamichodiere.fr; 34 Rue Pasteur, Pau;
lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; set menus from £12).
offers classical French cooking. Trout, boar and game feature heavily, and
although waistcoated waiters and starchy napkins are formal, it’s relaxed (00
33 5 62 92 50 02; asterides-sacca.com;
Boulevard Latapie Flurin, Cauterets; lunch and dinner late Dec-Sep; set menus
Run by the
lauded Ithurriage brothers, Au Fin Gourmet is the best place to eat in town.
The food is quintessentially French, with dishes such as rack of lamb rubbed
with mountain herbs (00 33 5 59 27 47 71; restaurantaufingourmet.com;
24 Avenue Gaston Lacoste, Pau; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, lunch Sun; set menus
south of Lourdes is Le Viscos. It mixes Basque, Breton and Pyrenean flavours
and the house speciality, foie gras, comes as a chilled mousse or on a tartine
(00 33 5 62 97 02 28; hotel-leviscos.com;
1 rue Lamarque, Saint-Savin; lunch and dinner; set menus from £24).
Remparts, set in an atmospheric cellar, has made a name for itself thanks to
young chef Nicolas Coutand’s fine-dining menu, featuring fillet of red mullet
with yellow courgette gazpacho (00 33 5 61 68 12 15; hotelremparts. com; 6 cours Louis Pons
Tarde, Mirepoix; lunch and dinner; set menus from £25).
Tucked away in the
mountains is Auberge Les Myrtilles. As you walk out of one of its eight wooden
chalets and look down on the scenic Ariège countryside, it feels a little like
stepping into the pages of Heidi (00 33 5 61 65 16 46; auberge-les-myrtilles.com; Col
des Marrous; from £48).
views unfurl from every window at idyllic b&b Eth Berye Petit. This
18th-century farmhouse has a cosy lounge dominated by a huge fireplace, while
an oak staircase leads up to three country-style rooms. The best is Era
Galeria, with 19thcentury furniture, French windows and a private balcony (00
33 5 62 97 90 02; beryepetit.com; 15 route
de Vielle, Beaucens; from £50).
by private gardens, Château de Beauregard is an architectural extravagance. The
rooms more than live up to the exterior promise: all different, elegantly
furnished and full of quirky touches, such as bathrooms hidden in corner
turrets (00 33 5 61 66 66 64; chateaubeauregard.net;
ave de la Résistance, St-Girons; from £52).
des Consuls, each room is decorated to echo a local historic figure. Best is
Dame Louise, with its four-poster bed and birds-eye view over the square, and
the Suite de l’Astronome, with a terrace overlooking the town’s red-tiled
rooftops (00 33 5 61 68 81 81; maisondesconsuls.com;
6 place du Maréchal Leclerc, Mirepoix; from £70).
charming Hôtel du Lion d’Or, rooms are decked out in candy pinks, sunny yellows
and duck-egg blues with knick-knacks throughout: a gramophone here, a stuffed
stag’s head there (00 33 5 62 92 52 87; liondor.eu;
12 rue Richelieu; closed late Apr-mid-May and mid-Oct-Dec; from £75).
Pau and Lourdes are
reasonably well served by trains. Further afield a limited bus service runs,
but to really explore you’ll need your own wheels. Car hire is available at Pau
Pyrenees airport and its train station, and Lourdes-Tarbes airport (from £68
per day; europcar.com).
When to go
Ski season is
December-March. The commune of Pau’s annual carnival can be enjoyed in the
followed by the enormous Easter celebrations in nearby Lourdes. In July,
shepherds move their flocks to the high pastures.
How to go
Pau is served by Cityjet from London City airport (from £76; cityjet.com). Ryanair flies to Lourdes-Tarbes airport
from Stansted (from £160; ryanair.com),
which is six miles north of the town; take a taxi to reach the city (£25; pau-taxi. com). Car hire is available at the
The article 'Mini guide to the Pyranees, France' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.